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01. Exist Underground
02. Sparks It Will Rain
05. Who Doesn't Love a Good Dismemberment?
06. Antarctica Inside Me
07. When You Lose I Lose As Well
08. Celebrate the Pyre
09. Are You Anywhere?
10. Makeshift Clay You
11. Without You and One Other I Am Nothing
Reviewed by: Nick
// Published: 7/6/2009
Forget the revolving door of members over the years. Forget the rise to and fall from a major label. Forget the near "classic" status of the now ten years old The Opposite of December. There are a number of ways in which one could dissect Poison the Well's storied career in the hardcore scene, but quite frankly, we should be less concerned with analyzing the evolution of one of the genre's most recognizable names and more concerned with answering one question: is it at all possible for them to rebound from the jangly, western-tinged mess that was 2007's Versions
Astonishingly enough, yes, the South Florida band has proven themselves up to the task with The Tropic Rot, a clever hybrid that strikes a unique balance between progressive hardcore and brooding rock. In a way, it's similar to Cave In's Perfect Pitch Black -- not necessarily in sound, but in the presence of two very different songwriting mentalities (and eras) butting heads to produce a record that's partially unstable, but very appealing.
Album opener, "Exist Underground," quickly sets the tone by immediately locking into thick mid-paced riff accompanied by coarse screams before easing into a calm, melodic verse with the singing of "You're scared your existence no longer means what you thought it did." The most immediate comparison of The Tropic Rot's constant push/pull between abrasive and melodic would be that of an older Ferret gem, Scarlet's Cult Classic. Although Poison the Well's attack on the abrasive side is far more driving and cohesive (read: completely breakdown-free) than Scarlet's technical metalcore chaos, the use of quick transitions into soothing, almost ominous singing is a definite point of overlap.
Tracks like "Cinema" and "Celebrate the Pyre" follow a similar balanced formula, but the true treasures of The Tropic Rot come with the band's more mellow experiments. Amidst a constantly driving backbone of drumming, "Pamplemousse" delves into a tranquil passage of layered guitars and strong singing. But as the track progresses, the layers of instrumentation that began as a mere foundation fluidly swell, propelling the song toward a cathartic close. The twang of Versions shows up in "When You Lose I Lose As Well," but the dose is welcomed in the context of the record and soon gives way to a well-developed melodic conclusion, much like that of "Pamplemousse."
Yet the record isn't without its flaws. Some of the clean singing gets trapped in a few repetitive choruses, and thus might trigger a touch of irritation from hinting at the hard-verse-melodic-chorus metalcore formula. Also, since most of the singing uses a drawn out, almost lethargic technique, a lot of emphasis is placed upon the album's lyrical content, which, unfortunately, isn't always helped by this added spotlight. Lines like "She's a ballerina / She dances circles around me" in "Antarctica Inside Me" and "I'm done with these movie screens in my head / They preoccupy me long enough" in "Cinema" aren't quite ready to be given the center stage.
Bottom Line: Poison the Well's fifth full-length, The Tropic Rot, is one of 2009's best surprises. They've picked themselves up after releasing the muddled, twang-heavy Versions, and have found a slick balance between moments of forceful hardcore and dysphoric melody. A few blatantly weak lyrics suggest that maybe the singing style has a downside, and there is still a touch of some formulaic songwriting, but on the whole, this is a strong release.
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